(ZHAO WUJI, B. 1920)
signed 'Wou-ki ZAO' in Chinese & Pinyin (lower right);
inscribed in French; signed 'Wou-ki Zao' in Chinese & Pinyin; dated '1963'; signed 'ZAO WOU-KI' in Pinyin; dated '18.7.62' (on the reverse) oil on canvas
54 x 81 cm. (21 1/4 x 31 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1962
Private Collection, Paris, France
Galerie Darga & Lansberg, Paris, France
Private Collection, Asia

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Lot Essay

After 1960, Zao entered into a period of complete abstraction stylistically. Western abstraction deals with management of forms on the canvas, and Zao's approach, where his deep concern with and feelings for nature were sublimated into an abstract vocabulary, placing him at some distance from this Western approach. Zao's paintings from the '60s onward therefore reflected a principle line of development that runs from his initial enthusiasm with Western abstraction to his return to Chinese traditions. But Zao's return to tradition, rather than a simple emulation of style or form, took place at the higher level in his philosophical and aesthetic outlook. 18-7-62 (Lot 1071) clearly demonstrates the origin of Zao's creative insights. Similar in its composition to Pure and Remote Mountains and Streams (Fig. 2), is an oeuvre of Xia Gui of the Southern Song that 18-7-62 naturally inherited. Before the Southern Song dynasty, hanging scroll (zhou, its width measured from top to bottom and length from left to right) was the most common medium of painting. As the court moved south, however, artists began to use handscroll (juan, its length measured from top to bottom and width from left to right) to picture the extensive rivers and lingering clouds of the Jiangnan region. Pure and Remote Mountains and Streams, which portrays the floating weathering clouds over the mountains and forest of the humid Jiangnan, exceeds 8 metre in length. The scenery is ever changing; at one time the mountaintop protrudes, at another time the rivers meander. With the use of different perspectives such as low-angle, eye-level and overhead, Xia Gui bestows upon the winding sierra, the folds of crag and the tortuous river a unique spatial structure, as they exist in discrete through the variety of perspectives. It was an idiosyncratic technique of composition of Xia Gui that only one side - left, right or the bottom - is chosen as the structural focus. This exclusive model of composition, which transformed the rather prescribed "mountain-oriented" structure since the Five Dynasties, was later termed "Xia ban bian" (Xia's half side), which Zao Wou-Ki at one and the same time appropriated and remodelled. In 18-7-62, Zao fills the background with weighty ink-black and dissects the canvas laterally - hence a binary spatial division on the canvas - by brushing blocks of white, as forcefully and liberally as possible, from left to right and vice versa. The vigorous, near-calligraphic black lines sink to the bottom, and with their breathtaking momentum the picture is suffused with the dynamics of the universe, nature, life and the elapse of time. It is the ingenuity of Zao to integrate calligraphic lines with the runny splashes of paint. The abstract expressiveness of lines evokes the motion of the brush; it reveals the artist's every thought and imagination, oscillating between the sentiments of calmness and excitement. While the emulsified oil pigments of inky black, coppery gold and greyish white form the primary tone of the work, the pure white oil at the bottom affords the entire canvas even more zest and vivacity.


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